Greetings and a warm winter welcome to the Yule Blog with some personal views from your correspondent, the Square on the Hypotenuse, at the parallel impression of Church that is St Pythagoras & All Angles, defying the gravitas of Advent and presenting some festive fun and reflections as we reach Gaudete Sunday in the run up to Christmas.
There’s a little quiz to ‘name’ the Angel-(tri)angles pictured throughout the blog. Answers at the bottom. (Views expressed in this blog are personal, light-hearted and not intended to cause any offence – RichardBarnes.)
“The bells of waiting Advent ring,”
famously wrote Sir John Betjeman in his poem “Christmas”. But another poem of his, Advent 1955,
“The Advent wind begins to stir
With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,”
is also worth searching out (copyright prevents reprinting). At that very time my parents were waiting for their Christmas baby to arrive.
I do enjoy a nice typo, and here’s a real one I spotted recently for some seasonal elf and safety training. “Health & Safety for Mangers” – presumably that would be for Mary & Joseph and others with line(age) management responsibilities.
Into the growing, or groaning, Oxford Movement English Dictionary, I’ve been asked to add:-
Apse – a download for your smartphone or tablet to upgrade its architecture.
Messy Solennelle – a Catholic version of Messy Church.
O Llama God – a version of the Agnus Dei for use with the Peruvian Gloria.
L’Église – a French Expression of Church.
On PyTV, look out for the Apse Factor. The final of this church architecture talent show features the classical order of Justin Pediment, the Irish Rococo splendour of Baroque O’Bama, the Victorian Gothic of Augustus Pingu, and the functional Modernism of Lars Pews-gone.
As the final film instalment of The Hobbit comes out, I recall a BBC TV presenter recently telling us that Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, regularly met with JRR Tolkien and the other Inklings in the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford to discuss their literary creations. An intriguing idea, but not ‘strictly’ true, they would never have met, their lives only overlapping by a few years. He must have meant Inspector Lewis, and Morse – only joking, C S Lewis, of course.
For some festive fantasy for children of all ages, dust off the Box of Delights (book or DVD) by John Masefield, and travel back 80 years with young Kay Harker and old Cole Hawlings to Tatchester, where the Wolves are Running, to save the Bishop, the Cathedral and Christmas itself from the evil schemes of the wizard who has taken over the theological college. The BBC adaption over 6 half-hour episodes was filmed at locations mainly in Herefordshire, and features music from Hely-Hutchinson’s Carol Symphony.
At Christmas Midnight Mass, as well as the ever poignant …
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.
… so appropriate to the 20th century and this centenary of World War I (but written in Massachusetts in 1849), let us also recall “The Oxen”, a poem by Thomas Hardy published in The Times on Christmas Eve, 1915.
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,
“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
So, a Blessed Christmas to all when He arrives.
But where is the humorous, dodgy scholarship of St Pythag’s, you may be wondering?
At this time when the light of our Lord is shining, in the midst of the darkness shining, the Pythagoras Institute for Indisciplinary Studies presents “The Effulgent History of the Worship Song, Shine, Jesus shine.” In 2013 many people celebrated the Silver Jubilee of this much loved and sometimes derided opus from the pen of Graham Kendrick. But could there be a pre-history to be fabricated for these stirring lyrics and music?
By coincidence in Autumn 2013, choir members at St Michael’s discovered Codex Dinhamensis, containing a 16th century manuscript with polyphonic music and Latin words, Domine lux tui amoris lucet … Fulge Jesu Fulge, remarkably similar to Shine, Jesus shine. A performing edition was constructed and ascribed to the little known composer Giovanni di Kendrika, born in 1507 in the Italian city of Apiclapi. An accomplished musician from an early age, he is, however, now only remembered for the eventful and notorious period, culminating in the ‘Great Handclapping Schism’ of 1548, as maestro di capella of the Capella Giulia at St Peter’s Rome, predecessor of his better-known contemporary Palestrina.
Then, in a move that would be repeated some 400-odd years later, the Council of Trendi in 1563 caused a time of Choroclasm in which organs and robed choirs, in all but the most prestigious institutions, were replaced by mandolins and gruppi musici, singing sanitised versions of popular music from their youth.
Another manuscript dated Leipzig 1608 has the same words and similar music arranged as a Lutheran Choral by the German Schein, Johann Schein, thought to be a pseudonym of the little-known composer Johann Sebastian Kendrich.
Analysing the text of Shine, Jesus shine, it seems clear that two earlier works have been combined sometime before the 16th century. The motifs of the Antiphon or Chorus – Shine, Blaze, Flow, Send – are in the Christus Victor style of the late Classical period and were perhaps penned by the lyricist Tinned Rice of the Ambrosian school of hymnography in the 4th century, or else Venantius Unfortunatus in the 6th. However the ideas of inundation and worship of Sun and River suggest to me an origin way, way back many centuries earlier in Ancient Egypt.
Some New-Age devotees have suggested various pagan origins in river cults such as Tyne Geordie Tyne or Rhein Mädchen Rhein, but, like much else, these cannot be traced back beyond post-Enlightenment Romanticism.
The verses, by contrast, seem to use a more sombre, medieval imagery – in mediis tenebris lucet, in the midst of the darkness shining; Domine venio ad faciem tuam terribilem, Lord I come to your awesome presence; per sanguinem intrabo splendorem, by the blood may I enter your brightness – or be reminiscent of the Psalmist in his darker moods. They appear first along with the familiar Tonus Kendrickus plainsong in the late 12th century Serve’em Rite, a short-lived alternative to the Sarum Rite, but somehow failed to find a place in Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer.
With this understanding of its illustrious pre-history, I’m sure we will all be much more willing to raise our hands and sing
“Fulge Jesu Fulge, replete hanc terram gloria patris,
Flagra spiritu flagra, incende corda nostra,
Flue flumen flue, inunda gentes gratia misericordiaque,
Emitte verbum tuum Domine, et fiat lux.”
Codex Dinhamensis also contains a fragment from the Confessions of St Augustine of Hippo:-
Lutum lutum gloriosum lutum, nihil omnino sanguis ad refrigerandum.
now better known set to music by Flanders and Swann.
And a lost final Sailors’ Chorus from Purcell’s opera Dido & Aeneas:-
Dido, Dido, it’s off to sea we go.
Finally a few little “Knock, knock” jokes, such as you might find in your Christmas Crackers.
Knock, knock. – Who’s there? Owen. Owen who? Owen the saints go marching in.
Knock, knock. – Who’s there? Andy. Andy who? Andy Glory of the Lord shall be revealed.
Knock, knock. – Who’s there? Wendy. Wendy who? Wendy red, red robin comes bob, bob bobbin’ along.
Knock, knock. – Who’s there? Wayne. Wayne who? Wayne a manger.
Knock, knock. – Who’s there? Wenceslas. Wenceslas who? Wenceslas train to Exeter?
Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, Merry Christmas.
Those Angels? – Equilateral – Isosceles – Scalene – Obtuse – Acute.